Features | 24.12.12 | 18:48
“Armenian Sun”: If sujukh is being made, it must mean holidays are coming!
“It’s boiling, now I can stop stirring, let it cook for a little longer then we’ll add the spices and start dipping the threaded walnuts in it,” says 62-year-old Beatrice Balabanyan. “We make sujukh every year at around this time. I believe many women start their preparations for the New Year table by making sujukh, of course not counting the dried fruits they made in summer. But, no matter what, sujukh is the king among the holiday charaz [mix of nuts, raisins, dried fruits and sujukh, which is a must on each Armenian family’s New Year table].”
Preparing sujukh is a whole ritual that turns into a festivity of sorts. The day for cooking the coating is set beforehand as well as decided at whose place among the relatives it will be made. On the appointed day the women of the given family – mother and daughter, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law, aunts on mother’s and father’s side, all gather and bring with them the ready lines of walnuts for the threading of which they use flax. Then the process begins. As a rule the person in charge is the family matriarch.
“The tradition has been passed down to us by our mothers. It’s a beautiful, interesting ritual – part of the Armenian cuisine. We make a lot of coating so that after dipping the nuts there is more left to treat each other,” says Beatrice’s daughter, 39-year-old Hasmik Harutyunyan.
She says the best walnuts for sujukh are the large thin-shelled ones. They should be soaked in water for six hours then dried and carefully cracked to extract the kernels.
“They should be cracked so that the kernel is divided into two halves only, then line them on a at flax thread at least one-meter-long. After the threading we hang them for a few days to let them dry,” says Hasmik.
Beatrice tries to explain what the coating is and how it is made.
“For one portion we take 1 liter of thick grape syrup (cooked grape juice with sugar), add 2 liters of water, then add sugar to your taste (depending on how sweet you want it to be, generally around one kilo), put it on low fire and stir constantly until it starts boiling. We let it boil for 15-20 minutes then take off the fire, let it cool. In the meantime, in another pot we pour 1 kg of flour and start slowly mixing in the cooled syrup, constantly stirring. Then we pour the mix through a sieve to get rid of little flour bumps. When it’s done, we put the pot back on low fire,” says Beatrice.
She says the secret of sujukh is in the grape syrup mix, made of fresh grape juice, and the sujukh taste largely depends on it.
“In the Armenian culture grapes have always held an important place and have been widely used in cuisine – starting from vine leaves to grape juice. Back to sujukh coating: we cook all the ingredients until the taste of the flour disappears,” she says and asks her daughter to fetch the spices.
Meanwhile, Beatrice pours some of the coating substance into a coffee cup and tests the thickness with a spoon. In the sun rays the brownish mass looks like a piece of shiny silk in which the walnut beads will be wrapped soon.
Hasmik adds the spices: cardamom, cinnamon, clove, vanilla, and nutmeg. The sweet smell of spices spreads in the neat kitchen.
A few minutes later mother and daughter lift the heavy pot and remove it from the stove and place in a corner where it will be convenient to proceed to the next steps. They start dipping the walnut beads into the ready mass. The threads have hooks tied to one side, they hold from the hook with one hand and with the other they start dipping using a wooden spoon to help the process. With the spoon they push the nuts to the bottom of the pot then pull it out. The beads of pearl-colored walnuts come out in colorful fancy attire. Beatrice takes the coated nuts and hangs them from a rope-line. The dripping starts on the trays placed beforehand underneath the hanging sujukhs. Thirty minutes later they dip them in the coating for the second time and hang them back to leave them dry finally.
“Some people like it with thick coating, some like it thin, tastes differ; the thicker the sweeter. If the coating is thin the walnut taste is stronger,” says Beatrice hanging the last of 40 beads, and says they dry in 10-15 days.
The remaining mass is poured into pots and toped with chopped nuts as little treats after hard work.
“Here we have made enough for my mother, sister and daughter, that’s why we have made this many. My daughter lives on Moscow, we have to send hers to her. In general we send dried fruits and sujukh to our relatives living abroad as a reminder how the Armenian sun tastes,” says Hasmik. “Plus it’s much cheaper to make it at home, while at supermarkets and food markets a half-a-meter line of sujukh costs 1,000 drams (about $2.50), and one has to buy several, otherwise it won’t be enough.”
To prepare sujukh at home you need:
8 lines of threaded walnut kernels (4 kg walnuts)
1 liter of grape syrup, 2 liters of water, 1 kg of sugar, 1 kg of flour, spices to your taste.
How to make it:
In a big pot pour the grape syrup, add the water, stir in the sugar, cook on low fire constantly stirring (the mass is sticky and requires constant stirring not to burn on the bottom) until it starts boiling. Once it has reached a boiling point there is no need to stir any longer. The mass should be left to boil for 15-20 minutes; take it off the fire and let it cool. In a different pot pour the flour and mix in the cooled sweet mass constantly stirring, then pour it through a sieve. The mass then is poured back into the big copper pot and put on low fire again. After it boils, the spices should be added to the taste. Remove from fire, and start dipping the walnuts. Hang to dry for 30 minutes, re-dip and hang to finally dry. In 10-15 days they will be ready to cut into 3 cm-long pieces and served.